So the big news of the week is President Trump fired the Director of the FBI, James Comey.
Something that on one side seems obvious, yet on the other seems very odd in its timing.
The Director of the FBI is actually a political appointee—Comey was appointed by President Obama—but is unique in that the person has a 10-year term and Presidents rarely remove someone before their term expires. Obviously Comey is different, not just because he was fired with just over 6 years left in his term.
So let’s take the issues involved, each in turn. First, Comey needed to go, so it was just a question of timing. We’ve heard the news story, how the Democratic leader in the Senate, Charles Schumer (D-NY) called for Comey to be fired months ago. Liberals, and especially devoted fans of Hillary Clinton blame Comey for Hillary losing the election because of his investigation into her breach of laws on handling of classified materials and wanted him fired for that reason. Conservatives thought he needed to go because of the findings that he reported about Clinton’s email, which were illegal, but which he said weren’t significant enough to prosecute. Comey had few backers from any part of the political spectrum. It’s clear that he became enamored with the publicity and that became as much or more important than his job as head of the most important law enforcement organization in the country. He tried to walk a tightrope between the various political figures and parties yet put himself constantly in the public eye with press conferences and press releases that often overstepped his job responsibilities.
And it seemed that was to continue. Comey tried to balance both parties by reporting on continuing investigations of the Trump campaign and potential Russian influence and also by announcing that there were still issues to be investigated about Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s top aide, who passed classified information to her estranged husband, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who did not have a security clearance to view any of the material. So had a ‘carrot’ to hold out to each side of the political spectrum while he continued to be a center of publicity.
The bottom line—Comey had done a lot to damage the credibility of the FBI and he needed to go. Timing aside, that perspective was almost unanimous from all parts of the political and legal spectrums.
However, let’s also be fair in saying outright that the timing was curious, to say the least. To fire an FBI Director who had already announced he was investigating you, opened up President Trump to obvious criticism. The timing was certainly odd—why didn’t Trump fire him right after he took office? The response has been that the Deputy Attorney General, to whom the Director of the FBI reports, was just confirmed by the Senate and that it was the Deputy Attorney General who recommended the firing and so that is the reason Comey was fired now.
Maybe true, but one can’t help but be reminded of Nixon doing a similar thing during the Watergate scandal—at least those of us either old enough or historically minded enough to remember. Putting emotion aside (which I grant isn’t easy given the emotion that Trump generates) this was a bit different , as unlike Nixon’s move, this one involved an FBI Director that had very little credibility left and had seriously damaged that of the FBI.
On the other hand, let’s state the obvious—it’s more than a bit concerning that a President being investigated fired the person heading the FBI who was investigating him. So there is little doubt that Comey needed to be gone but there is also little doubt that whoever take his place needs to 1) have the respect of lawmakers from all political perspectives and 2) needs to have the strength of character enough to be able to potentially stand up to a President that is under a microscope.
A decision needs to come soon on a replacement for the FBI Director and it needs to be someone with impeccable credentials. This may be the most important nomination in the Trump Presidency. And Thinking Man would suggest that whether the firing of James Comey this week was a good or bad move will be decided by who his replacement will be.